(HOST) In our busy, acquisitive lives, material things tend to come
and go, but commentator Vic Henningsen has been thinking about how
sometimes – we get attached anyway.
(HENNINGSEN) We bid farewell to an old companion this morning and I’ve spent the day mourning. All the good times we shared. All the challenges we faced together. I know things had been slowing down over the last year or so, but I’d hoped to get further than this. I’m reminded of Thomas Jefferson’s observation to John Adams as they faced old age: "Our machines have now been running for 70 or 80 years, and we must expect that, worn as they are, here a pivot, there a wheel, now a pinion, next a spring, will be giving way, and however we may tinker with them for awhile, all will at length surcease motion." True for people, true for animals; especially true for machinery.
Is it overly sentimental to mourn the passing of an elderly Subaru? I don’t think so. It’s not just a vehicle that’s leaving; it’s part of our lives.
Poet Donald Hall writes of farmers who recount over a half-century by calling the roll of horses with which they’d worked the land. Many of us, I suspect, do this with our cars and trucks. In his last years, my grandfather would recall every departed friend first by his car: "Yeah, Walt drove a Packard." I associate the early Cold War years with the nicknames my family gave to our station wagons: the "Red Menace" and the "Yellow Peril". Later car names reflected the campiness of the 1960’s and ’70’s: "the Black Flash", "the Green Hornet", and "the Red Shark" – the ridiculously underpowered VW bug that carried me back and forth across the continent on the road trips of my twenties. Porcupines ate the brake lines on that car twice, but she always got me home safe. Then there was the ominous "Rustmobile", but let’s say no more of that. When I first met my wife, she owned a Plymouth Valiant nicknamed, of course, "Prince."
Children came and the cars got little-kid names – the brown car, the gray car – but the emotional attachment to vehicles remained – even intensified. When we sold our sedan to get something with more room, my two-year-old daughter sat under an apple tree and wept: "The brown car hasn’t been bad, Daddy. Why does it have to go away?" It was her first experience with loss; it was my first experience as a parent trying to help a child deal with loss.
So we watched Old Paint hit the road for the last time with genuine regret. The family history in that car made it a veritable rolling archive. As it rounded the corner and rode out of sight, we marked the precise moment when reality becomes memory. The emotional impact isn’t the same as losing a pet or a friend, but it’s there nonetheless: bittersweet reminder of past partings; harbinger of those to come.